In a challenge to the meaning of the concept “physical constant” as it is taught in CC105, a team of astrophysicists, led by John Webb in the University of New South Wales, Australia are claiming they have discovered a kind of variability in a fundamental constant of nature (via SpaceDaily):
New research suggests that the supposedly invariant fine-structure constant, which characterizes the strength of the electromagnetic force, varies from place to place throughout the Universe. The finding could mean rethinking the fundamentals of our current knowledge of physics.
These results will be presented tomorrow [September 8, 2010] during the Joint European and National Astronomy Meeting in Lisbon, Portugal, and the scientific article has been submitted to the Physical Review Letters Journal. [...]
Webb’s results imply that the fine-structure constant, which characterizes the strength of the electromagnetic force, might have different values depending on which direction we are looking in the sky, thus being not so ‘constant’ after all.
These results have yet to go through the rigor of peer review, so it is as yet perhaps premature to start burning those physics books. When asked about this recent finding, Prof. Hudon of our Core Natural Science faculty—an astronomer by training—had this to say:
“If true, it’s a fascinating result.”
A cautious but curious response! Keep an eye out, then, for further developments this challenge to the present paradigm.